People don’t give to church because we don’t offer them a compelling vision of the good their giving will achieve.
Hearing a young attorney speak of the faithbased reasons for which he had just made a substantial monetary gift to a community youth center, Clif Christopher asked the speaker if he would consider making a similar contribution to the congregation of which he was an active member. “Lord, no they would not know what to do with it” was the answer. That, in a nutshell, describes the problem churches are facing in their stewardship efforts, says Christopher. Unlike leading nonprofit agencies and institutions, we too often fail to convince potential givers that their gifts will have impact and significance. In this book, Christopher lays out the main reasons for this failure to capture the imagination of potential givers, including our frequent failure simply to ask.
Written with the needs of pastors and stewardship teams in mind, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate provides immediate, practical guidance to all who seek to help God’s people be better stewards of their resources.
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About the Author
Christopher founded the Horizons Stewardship Company in 1992 following a challenging career in pastoral ministry. He serves as the company’s CEO to this day. In his twenty years as a pastor, he led numerous major building and capital campaigns. Since founding Horizons, he and his strategists have led consultations in over 2,000 churches, conferences, synods and diocese in all phases of building, finance, and church growth raising billions of dollars for ministry.
Christopher is a certified church growth consultant and has earned the coveted title CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive). In 1995, he was given the National Circuit Rider Award by the United Methodist Church for outstanding leadership in developing vital congregations. He has personally worked in over 42 states and is a frequent speaker at stewardship seminars around the country. He is the co-author of the book Holy Smoke, the author of Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, Whose Offering Plate Is It?, Rich Church - Poor Church and The Church Money Manual.
Dr. Bill Easum, noted consultant and author, said, “No one knows more about local church stewardship than Clif Christopher.” Mega church pastor, Adam Hamilton said, “When I have a stewardship question, I call Clif Christopher.” Foundation director, David Atkins said, “Clif is one of the most effective communicators in the field of church fundraising today.” Author and highly successful pastor, Mike Slaughter said, “Clif Christopher is one of the top authorities on church finance and stewardship in America.” Abingdon Press has described him as “The leading voice of finance and stewardship in the Christian Church.” Christopher has been an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church since 1975, is a combat veteran of the Gulf War, and is married and living in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Read an Excerpt
Not Your Parents' Offering Plate
A New Vision for Financial Stewardship
By J. Clif Christopher
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2015 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Survival of the Fittest
In America today, there are over 1.1 million nonprofit organizations, and almost all are 501(c)(3)s. There are about 370,000 churches. Just twenty years ago, in 1995, there were 500,000 active 501(c)(3)s and about 370,000 churches. What these numbers show is that in twenty years the competition has nearly doubled.
Each year finds the number of nonprofits in America growing. Their numbers are increasing much faster than charitable giving. As more and more organizations vie for fewer and fewer dollars, someone has to lose. All cannot thrive equally. Sadly, in many instances the loser has been the church, because churches have been blind to the fact that they must compete.
When I first got to college, there was one drive-in eating establishment in our town. They had burgers and foot-long hot dogs. We would drive up, wait for someone to come out to the car to take our order, and in ten or fifteen minutes we would get some food. It wasn't great food and it wasn't great service, but it was OK for our little town. Well, by the time I graduated, there was a McDonald's and a Burger King. A couple of pizza places opened up and we had choices. The little burger joint never changed the way it did business, even though the competition around them changed dramatically. Within a year it closed, never to open again. Their burger used to be good enough. What happened? Why did the customers start going elsewhere?
The very same thing is happening in the charitable world. The church used to be the predominant charity in most communities. In many, it was the only place to make a contribution of any kind. The appeal was simply, "You should give." And people would heed the appeal and give. For too many churches the appeal is still "you should give." And people respond by giving, just not to the church. They are hearing the preacher say that Jesus wants them to give, and they are choosing the youth center or the college or the hospital. Yet, our appeal is still the same. We must learn to answer the question our donors are asking us, "Why should I give to YOU?"
According to Giving USA 2014, giving to religion amounted to 31 percent of all charitable giving in 2013. This was by far the largest category for charitable contributions, beating education, which got 16 percent. On the surface this looks like very good news for those of us in the church business. We seem to be America's favorite charity. But there is a problem. Our piece of the pie is shrinking at an alarming rate.
In 1985, religion received 53 percent of all charitable contributions. Through the 1990s religion received around 40 to 45 percent.
By 2000, the percent had dropped below 40 percent and it continues to fall. Donors are showing us that though we are still number one, we are rapidly falling out of favor. They are continuing to give, just not to the churches.
As noted in Giving USA, "Since 2001, giving to religion has shown a rate of growth of 3.6 percent, while disposable personal income has increased more than 8 percent (adjusted for inflation)."
People have the money and they continue to give. Religion is just no longer their charity of choice.
I visited with a woman not too long ago whose family was very wealthy. She was a gifted businesswoman who was paid highly for her expertise. Her husband owned an oil company that had exploded with growth during the "high gas price" years. They had belonged to their church for over thirty years and had held every major lay office in the church. During my visit, the wife shared with me a recent conversation that she had had with her pastor.
"Last year my husband and I gave a million-dollar gift to the local hospital. It was announced in the newspaper and thus became common knowledge around the church. It became somewhat obvious to us after this that our pastor was looking at us a bit differently than he had before. One day I asked him to come over and the two of us talked about what was going on. He did not want to own up to his feelings at first, but finally he said as politely as he could, 'I just do not know why you have not made a gift to the church like the one you gave to the hospital.'
"I proceeded to tell him how the gift came about, as a way of showing him why they got the gift and he did not. I told him how the CEO of the hospital had personally come out to see my husband and me on several occasions to seek our advice about the new wing. He asked us to join the board that was designing the center. During nearly every one of our meetings, he shared the case as to why this new wing was necessary, how it would change lives and make our community a much better place to live. One day he came on his own, sat in our living room and asked us for one million dollars, to be the lead gift in the campaign. Once we agreed, we got the most wonderful letter from him, along with a framed rendering of the new wing. Around the mat board of the rendering were the signed thank-yous of each nurse who will work in the center. We hung it up in our study. The picture certainly surprised us, but the thank-you letter did not. We always got one whenever we have made a gift, of any size, to the hospital. It has just been a joyous experience for us both." She looked at me and finally said, "I am not sure if he understood how different this experience has been from what we experience with the church. He just thanked me and left."
This woman and her husband are fine Christian people, whose giving has been shaped by their Christian convictions. They give, in many respects, as stewards who perceive that all they have has been given to them by God and they have a responsibility to their Creator to give back. At the same time, because they are stewards who believe that God holds them accountable for their giving, they want to be sure their gift is used wisely and truly makes a difference. The hospital helped convince them that the gift would be used well, to change lives, while the church simply said, "Why don't you give to us?"
To compete is not something most of our churches are prepared to do, and many even resent the implication that they should. Along with many others, I have watched as the mainline church has declined for over four decades. In the early years, part of the reason for the decline was the idea that competition was somehow unchristian. Fifty years ago, most of our country had blue laws that prohibited businesses from opening on Sunday. Many towns closed up on Wednesdays to leave this open as "church night." Then the laws changed and people started having options. Even youth ball games were being scheduled on Sunday mornings. I heard many a church complain but few towns have reinstated blue laws, and Wednesday is just like every other day of the week now.
The churches that survived this onslaught did not just sit around and protest that people were not coming. They went out and proceeded to earn people's time and attention. Worship was outstanding and youth meetings became dynamic. They were willing to lay their case right up against the soccer teams and say to the parents, "Look what we have to offer. Wouldn't you rather have your kid here?" Not only did the parents want their kids to go there, the kids preferred it also. The churches took on the competition, believing that their product could be superior, and won.
Donors are saying to our churches today that you have to earn our gifts. No longer can you just preach a sermon on tithing and think the members will give 10 percent to the church. They will hear your message that tithing is what God wants them to do, and then they will go home and decide to give the church 2 percent, the youth center 2 percent, the homeless shelter 2 percent, and their college 4 percent. They will then look you right in the eye when you say that it all should go to the church, and they will ask you, "Do you not believe that Jesus is working in the youth center and the homeless shelter and with our college students?" If you are not prepared to compete with over one million nonprofits, you will lose.
Just a few years ago the Oldsmobile brand of General Motors began a series of ads stating, "It's not your father's Oldsmobile." The reason they were running the ads was that sales of Oldsmobiles had declined steadily for a number of years. The perception in the market-place was that the Olds was for the senior set, not for anyone under sixty. They tried at the last minute to change the brand a bit and appeal to younger generations using this slogan. Two years later they announced that Olds, as a brand, would no longer be on the market. They waited too long to change. Well, friends, it is not your parents' offering plate anymore, either. Will you wait too long to change?
Lyle Schaller wrote a brilliant book, The New Context for Ministry, dealing with the change in attitudes about charitable giving. In it, he plainly said, "This new face of American philanthropy is distinguished by an unprecedented level of competition for the charitable dollar. For well over 90 percent of all Christian congregations.... this means they will NOT be able to compete ..." ([Nashville: Abingdon Press], 161).
By now I hope that you have come to the realization that competition is not a dirty word and that the church must engage in it. If so, then the rest of this book will prove useful. Maybe—just maybe—your church will be one of the 10 percent that learns how to compete and does so effectively.
Questions to Ask
In what ways have we experienced changes in the competitive environment for our church in our community?
What are some of the ways our church has changed as the times have changed?
If the young attorney had been a member of our church, would he have said that we wouldn't have known what to do with his gift?
Specifically, what do you do differently today regarding financial stewardship that you were not doing ten years ago?
Things to Do
Invite the executive director of one of your community's first-rate nonprofits to come by and talk to your stewardship committee about how they do fundraising and how they relate to their donors.CHAPTER 2
Reasons People Give
When I first started working with nonprofits other than churches, I noticed one glaring difference. Nonprofits understood why people give. Not only did they understand why people give, but also they structured all of their methods and appeals around such knowledge. Before I started working with them, I had only my church experience behind me, and I realized that neither the churches nor I had any idea how donors think or why they act the way they do.
What a novel idea. Actually trying to understand why people would want to give to you. We see this all the time. Grocery store owners have a very good idea of what makes people choose their grocery store and they adjust everything to appeal to the people their livelihood depends on. Walmart may be the American company that understands best why people choose certain places to shop. Their rapid rise to the top of retailing shows that they understand their customers well. Nonprofits started studying a long time ago what caused a donor to choose one nonprofit over another, and as the number of nonprofits has grown, more and more have been applying what they have learned. Those who did it well are alive and well today. Those who ignored the evidence are no longer with us.
In one of my clergy seminars, I put up on a screen a laundry list of reasons people give. I then asked the pastors to choose which ones they felt were the number one, two, and three chief reasons people give. They started blurting out, "taxes, guilt, involvement ..." No one was even close. Finally, a lady who had been sitting quietly in the back raised her hand and said, "Number one is a belief in the mission. Number two is a regard for staff leadership, and number three is fiscal responsibility." She was right. I was stunned. I asked her where she was a pastor and she sheepishly said, "I am not a pastor, but my pastor told me about this seminar and thought I might learn something. I am the executive director of Habitat for Humanity."
How revealing was that? The room was full of people who were all nonprofit leaders. A hundred of them were the heads of a church and one was the head of a secular nonprofit. The only one who understood why people gave was the one representing the secular organization. One of the most important things you can glean from this book is an understanding of why people give, and then you will begin to understand that the people in your pews are potential donors, not just members.
Jerold Panas's landmark book, Mega Gifts, was one of the first attempts to do in-depth research into the area of what motivates people to give. Almost annually since the book first came out in 1984, a number of other researchers have asked the question—why did you choose to make a gift? Their results have paralleled those Panas found early on. Panas discovered that for major donors three factors ranked extremely high. As stated before, they were (1) belief in the mission of the institution, (2) a high regard for staff leadership, and (3) the fiscal responsibility of the institution. Today nearly all nonprofits structure their fund-raising around an understanding of these three reasons. They choose to do or not to do certain things depending on how they will motivate or discourage the giving of the donor. Only the church seems ignorant of the reasons people give.
A Belief in the Mission
People want to make the world a better place to live. They want to believe that they can truly make a difference for the better. There is embedded in us, it seems, a desire to finish out our work on this earth with a sense that we amounted to something. To sum it up, people want to be a part of something that changes lives.
This is what nonprofits offer to do. People may work for a widget factory without feeling a strong sense of purpose or without being able to see how they make a difference in the world, so they give to a nonprofit to participate in what they would like to see happen. It is the nonprofit that helps them feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, give hope to the hopeless, bring peace to the troubled, and in general make the world a better place to live. Nonprofits and churches only have one thing to sell—changed lives. When they do it well, they are supported, but when they do not do it well, they go out of business.
When I asked that young attorney why he was giving to the youth center instead of to his church, his answer could be summed up as follows: "The youth center showed me how they were changing lives with what they possessed and how they would change even more lives if they had more. The church has not shown me how it is performing its mission now, or how it plans to do it better if I choose to give them more money. I want to make a difference with what God has given me, and I do not see the church making much of a difference."
When I asked the businessman why he chose the university's art department instead of the church, he was very active when he replied, "I want to change as many lives as possible."
The supreme business guru of our time has been Peter Drucker. He wrote a great little book called Managing the Nonprofit Organization. In it he said, "A business has discharged its task when the customer buys the product, pays for it, and is satisfied with it. Government has discharged its function when its policies are effective. The nonprofit institution neither supplies goods, services, or controls. Its product is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The nonprofit institutions are human change agents. Their 'product' is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adult; a changed human life altogether" ([New York: HarperCollins, 1990], xiv).
In other words, what Drucker is saying is that just like people expect the shoe store to sell quality shoes at a good price, they expect the nonprofit to change lives. When a shoe store does a good job of selling quality shoes at a fair price, people keep buying shoes from that store. When a church consistently shows its constituency how lives are being improved through its ministry, then that church gets supported.
The best way to raise money for your church is simply to DO YOUR JOB! When people see others coming to your altar and falling on their knees, when they see families moving forward to unite their lives with you, when they hear testimonies of how a marriage was rejuvenated or an alcoholic rehabilitated, when they witness a group of young people singing of their love for Christ with sincere smiles on their faces, when they know deep in their own soul that they have moved closer to the cross through worship experiences—then they give.
I get frustrated reading newsletters of church after church that tell me how the men's group is going to have a breakfast on Saturday and the women are going to have a bazaar next Thursday and the youth will have a dance next Friday after the ball game. Then, over in the corner, usually separated by a bold line so that it stands out, I see financial statistics, which usually indicate that a certain amount was needed and a lesser amount was received, and that there is a deficit of something, with a quote underneath, "God loves a cheerful giver."
Excerpted from Not Your Parents' Offering Plate by J. Clif Christopher. Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Bill Easum vii
Survival of the Fittest 1
Reasons People Give 11
All Members Are Not Equal 33
The Pastor Must Be a Fund-raiser 43
The Three Pockets of Giving 65
The Top Ten Things I Would Do Now 79
Suggestions for Further Reading 121
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A fresh look at tithing and offerings. Easy, informative outlook. Our entire session needs to read this and use the perspective to make our church stronger financially which will enable us to do more with our members and our neighborhood.
I learned a lot Nice look at a new way to get money to the church
I am a pastor. I loved this book. I bought a second copy and am sharing within my leadership. I also serve on the board of directors for a local non-profit. It is helpful in that context, too. Well done.